Members of the business community yesterday underlined their support for anti-racism legislation but were confused and concerned over the status of 'expat packages' under the proposed law. They called for bureaucracy to be minimised, with recruitment made on the basis of merit, and salaries set by market forces. The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that different pay packages for local and for overseas employees - often referred to as expat packages - may be subject to new restrictions under the impending anti-racism bill. The bill would outlaw discrimination based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin in employment, among other areas. But the government has proposed exceptions for companies recruiting foreign staff on expatriate packages. Companies will still be able to offer such packages, but the recruits must have experience 'not readily available in Hong Kong' and must not be permanent residents. Those currently on expatriate terms will not be affected. Country manager for recruitment firm Hudson, Erika Morton, said companies generally preferred to hire locally, but sometimes foreigners were brought in for particular skills. Ms Morton said firms did this for availability of skills. 'They have to be able to provide a package that is attractive enough to bring people in. With senior executives, there are often spouses and families to be provided for as well. Market forces drive these decisions.' Shalini Mahtani, the chief executive of Community Business, a non-governmental organisation dealing with corporate social responsibility, said the exemption raised more questions than it answered. 'One needs to ask the question: what happens if you pay someone hired from the United States more than you pay someone from Australia because of market forces in those countries, as salaries tend to be lower in Australia? 'Ultimately, people need to be employed based on merit.' Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at Lingnan University, Ho Lok-sang, said it would be difficult for an outsider to determine whether two people in the same job were of the same calibre.